It was the day after and the flags that did me in. I remember the surreal feelings of September 11, 2001 when I turned on the news to check the weather before work that morning. I felt in a haze almost while driving to work after I forced myself away from the images on my television. As a cashier I heard customer after customer come into the store with more and more different stories as the events unfolded. As the day dragged on it seemed more like a ghost town in the store with fewer people coming in by mid day. I felt isolated from the truth and was desperate for news and fact, not speculation and unconfirmed reports. The car radio on the way home, the unending images on TV that night… it didn’t seem real. This was The United States. We are free and safe here. But then I woke to harsh realities that next day.
It was still all over the news. The images like a horrific action movie that seemed far too real. I had not processed a thing. It all seemed so unlikely that someone would do this to everyday people going to work. Children in a daycare. And the hundred of travelers just going to or returning from a vacation or business trip. I once again forced myself to leave for work and only made it two blocks when I saw it. In front of a hardware store in vivid color it hit me without warning. The symbol of our nation. A nation that had been attacked, A nation in deep mourning and a state of shock still. In front of that hardware store was a flag pole and a gentle nod of respect and tribute. The flag at half mast was a splash of cold water that shook me to my soul. We had really been attacked. Thousands were killed, injured, and missing. Our nation was crying, the flag down like a head bowed in prayer.
That moment of awakening to the true agony of this events was more real than pictures on a screen. I had never traveled to those three places and had no connection to them other than they held precious human life; precious American lives that had been stripped away. But that small town hardware store I knew. Then down the block was a gas station I passed everyday. I came to the motorcycle shop I had been in. Everyday places of business, just like the people going to work in those towers in New York. My neighbors worked at these places. To see the flags all down in a sign of mourning was what connected me to the awful acts of terrorism. That was the moment I cried. That was the moment it all became very real for me. That was the moment reality burned through my heart and soul.
I bow my head in prayer for the lives of so many that were lost. I pray for the number of people left wounded both physically and emotionally by these tragedies. Each year still, it is the image of the flags lowered that puts that lump in my throat again. It reminds me of how connected we can be even miles apart. It reminds me that no matter what happens we still have that hope of unity when we rally together as a nation. The flags are returned to full salute today and life goes on. But I will always remember the day after and the effect the sight of the flags had on me.